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OHR Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the DC Human Rights Act

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Local civil rights leaders convened to honor to legacy of the Act
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, December 6, 2017
CONTACT: Stephanie Franklin (OHR) – 202.727.1145; [email protected]


(WASHINGTON, D.C.)Today, the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights and Commission on Human Rights celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the passage of District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 (the Act) at an event hosted at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Columbia Heights. The historic local law predates the District’s Home Rule status and was introduced as a new bill to the first elected Council of the District of Columbia by eight sitting members, including former Mayor and then Council member Marion Barry and passed unanimously. The initial statute prohibited discrimination based on 15 protected traits in the areas of employment, housing, education and places of public accommodation and has over the past four decades added five more traits making it one of the strongest living civil rights laws to date –at the local, state and federal level.
“We are proud to celebrate the fact that Washington, DC has long been, and continues to be, a leader in civil rights. The DC Human Rights Act was ahead of its time and remains the most comprehensive law of its kind in the nation,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “The District has made tremendous progress over the past 40 years, and we will continue to uphold and exceed the standard we have set for our city, region, and country.”
The event titled Still Standing Strong: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the DC Human Rights Act honored the legislative legacy of the Act and it’s continued impact in the District and beyond. It included a brief film screening featuring former Councilmember Arrington Dixon and Virginia Ali of Ben’s Chili Bowl and their accounts of the historic moments leading into the passage of the Act in 1977. The screening was followed by a panel discussion where local leaders explored the future of civil and human rights under the pressures of the current societal climate.
Additionally, Katherine Huffman of the Raben Group was honored for her contributions to advancing civil rights and commitment to criminal justice reform and received the notable Cornelius “Neil” Alexander Humanitarian Award –an award for outstanding achievements in civil rights and namesake of former Chief Judge Neil Alexander –at the event. Ms. Huffman has been a Principal at the Raben Group for nearly 15 and has worked on numerous reform and advocacy projects including the Innocence Project’s forensic science reform campaign and Vera Institute’s Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons.
“Now more than ever we need to stand together and advance local laws like ours in the District that protect against behavior rooted in hate, bias and discrimination “said OHR Director Monica Palacio. “Despite the swell in hate speech towards and countless barriers faced by many vulnerable groups, I cannot help but to be hopeful. For history has taught us that with opposition comes opportunity and we must use this as fuel, just as our leaders did in the past, to keep pushing until the doors are open for all.”
About the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights
The Commission on Human Rights is a quasi-independent body whose primary function is to adjudicate private sector discrimination complaints brought under the DC Human Rights Act. It is comprised of 15 volunteer Commissioners appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Three administrative law judges assist the Commission in upholding its responsibilities.
About the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights (OHR) was established to eradicate discrimination, increase equal opportunity and protect human rights for persons who live in or visit the District of Columbia. The agency enforces local and federal human rights laws, including the DC Human Rights Act, by providing a legal process to those who believe they have been discriminated against. OHR also proactively enforces human rights in the District through Director’s Inquiries, which allow it to identify and investigate practices and policies that may be discriminatory.